I saw someone die in the street last night.
During orientation, Robert explained the five Buddhist Precepts to us, and he explained why our experience and that of others would be better if we agreed to follow them during our time here. Then he said that if we broke one, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up, but that we should try not to do it again. When a few students were caught drinking and smoking on the roof, he said at lunch that he’d heard about it, and that if we had any intoxicants in our room we should go get them and flush them down the toilet. He didn’t say to go get them and bring them to him. He understands that he can’t make us do anything.
The only thing that he forbade expressly was riding motorcycles.
“Riding a motorcycle in India is the most dangerous thing you can do,” he said. “There is no trauma ward. If you get into an accident, everyone will stand and watch while you bleed to death in the street.
I saw the crowd before I saw the body. I was walking with a couple of French people I’d met the night before. They saw the crowd and didn’t wish to walk that way. One man told me it was OK for us to pass, so I went because otherwise I would be late to mediation. For just half a second I saw the man lying exactly on his back in a pool of blood with a thick stream of blood draped across his face and body. It could not have been more red. His motorcycle was behind him. I turned my head away and touched the wall next to me, but the image has not left my mind. This body was not like a body prepared for cremation in Varinassi. They were supposed to be dead. This man was still fresh. He should have been alive. At the moment I saw him, maybe he was alive.
I walked back the way I’d come and saw my fellow students coming toward me in rickshaws. I looked at them and said “there’s a dead man in the street.” I expected them to stop or something, but the rickshaws just went past. Only Wanda and Heidi got out. I didn’t want to walk alone, so I had to walk past the same place to catch up with them. The body was being carried up the hill on a woven stretcher, and I had to see the pool of blood mixed in the gravel and rainwater again as I walked past.
When we got to mediation we were having a group photo taken. We had to wear our Zen robes. I thought “I can’t figure out the strings on these robes, I just saw a dead man,” and “I can’t smile for this photo, there was so much blood,” and “I can’t get up for walking mediation, he was lying right on his back like he was in bed,” but I managed to do all those things anyway.
It was our final meditation session in the Japanese temple, so afterward one of the monks spoke to us. He told us that “Arigato” means more than thank you in Japanese. It means, these circumstances were difficult to come by, and we are so happy that you can be here. You are not just thanking the person you are speaking to, but you are thanking every circumstance that lead you to be together. He said we should all call or e-mail our families to say “arigato”. He said that it might confuse them, but he didn’t care. Maybe it’s wrong, but it’s true that seeing death like that makes you understand how rare it is that so many of the people you love are still healthy and fine. Arigato.